BBC to close broadcast networks, move content online as part of cost-cutting measure

The BBC says it will stop broadcasting two of its over-the-air television networks and move their content exclusively to the company's streaming platform BBC iPlayer over the next few years.

The move is part of a digital-first plan that was announced to BBC workers on Thursday.

The plan calls for the BBC to stop broadcasting its art- and documentary-focused BBC Four and children's network CBBC within the next few years. Executives said the company will continue producing shows that aired on both channels, but those shows will be available to viewers exclusively through BBC iPlayer.

The BBC did not say when it would officially sunset the networks. The action is similar to one taken in 2016 when the youth-focused BBC Three moved exclusively to the network's online platforms as part of a cost-cutting measure then.

The strategy is intended to help the BBC cope with a shifting revenue structure that was announced earlier this year by government officials. For decades, a tax imposed on British households that watched live television helped fund the BBC's television and radio networks.

The tax, known as a television license, has stirred some controversy over the last few years as British viewers have shifted their television consumption away from live television toward on-demand services like BBC iPlayer and commercial competitors Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime. Some politicians also complained about the BBC's coverage of the country's recent decision to leave the European Union (known as "Brexit"), suggesting its perceived political bias was grounds to abolish the television license.

In January, government officials said they would freeze the BBC's funding for the next two years and eventually shift away from the television license model. The license fee will be increased for British households every year starting in 2024 before it is abandoned altogether in 2027. It is not clear how the BBC will be funded from that point on.

In the meantime, the BBC says it will concentrate its efforts on a digital-first strategy that will see the company spend £300 million (about $380 million) on streaming-first and commercial content. Around £50 million (about $63 million) will be specifically earmarked for product development, executives affirmed. The BBC has set a target of having 75 percent of its viewers consume content through BBC iPlayer each week.

The strategy also calls for the merging of the domestic BBC News channel with its global network BBC World News. The new channel, which will take the BBC News branding, will offer a single schedule but still maintain the ability to offer breaking news to different parts of the world depending on what happens and where, the BBC said.

In the United States, BBC World News is distributed by AMC Networks, which also programs the entertainment-focused BBC America. It was not clear how the BBC's new strategy will impact its commercial deal with AMC Networks over the long term.

"[Viewers] want us to keep the BBC relevant and fight for something that in 2022 is more important than ever" Tim Davie, the director-general of the BBC, told staff members on Thursday. "To do that, we need to evolve faster and embrace the huge shifts in the market around us."

Part of that evolution will result in some job losses, Davie said: The BBC intends to employ 1,000 fewer workers in the domestic part of the BBC over the next several years, with details about the initial layoffs expected to be announced in the coming months.